Biden invites Taiwan to democracy summit

WASHINGTON • US President Joe Biden has invited Taiwan to a virtual summit on democracy alongside more than 100 countries - a move that has sparked indignation from China, which is not on the list.

Taiwan thanked Mr Biden for the invitation and said the gathering would be a rare opportunity for the self-ruled island to burnish its credentials on the world stage.

"Through this summit, Taiwan can share its democratic success story," Presidential Office spokesman Xavier Chang said.

Beijing said it "firmly opposed" the inclusion of an island it regards as "an inalienable part of Chinese territory". China regards Taiwan as a renegade province awaiting reunification with the mainland, by force if necessary.

The global conference was a campaign pledge by Mr Biden, who has placed the struggle between democracies and "autocratic governments" at the heart of his foreign policy.

The virtual "Summit for Democracy" will take place on Dec 9 and 10, ahead of an in-person meeting at its second edition next year.

The meeting was long advertised, but the guest list - published on Tuesday on the State Department's website - will be closely scrutinised.

Unsurprisingly, America's main rivals China and Russia are not on the list.

The invitation is a major coup for Taiwan at a time when Beijing has been ramping up its campaign to keep the island out of international bodies.

The United States does not recognise Taiwan as an independent country, but it holds up the island as a rare model of progressive democracy in Asia and maintains it as a crucial regional ally.

"I agree Taiwan more than qualifies - but it does seem to be (the) only democratic government invited that the US government does not officially recognise. So its inclusion is a big deal," tweeted Hofstra University law professor Julian Ku, whose specialities include China.

India, often called "the world's biggest democracy", will be present at the summit, despite facing increasing criticism from human rights defenders over democratic backsliding under Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

So will Pakistan, despite its chequered relationship with the US.

Turkey, a Nato ally of the US whose President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was dubbed an "autocrat" by Mr Biden, did not make the list.

Singapore and Bangladesh are excluded as well.

In the Middle East, only Israel and Iraq are invited. Washington's traditional Arab allies - Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates - are not on the list.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 25, 2021, with the headline 'Biden invites Taiwan to democracy summit'. Subscribe